Because of COVID-related issues within its program, Woodland hasn’t played a regular-season game this season.
“That leaves a lot of unknowns,” Abbeville coach Jamie Nickles said. “Their system was not on display in the jamboree that we watched and the scrimmages. But the fundamentals are, and we played them last year, so you feel good about that.”
Woodland will host No. 1-ranked Abbeville at 6 p.m. Friday in Dorchester.
“They came up here last year, and I think that affected their team,” Nickles said. “This year, we’ve got to travel the 2 hours and 45 minutes, and the question is, will that affect our team? Will we allow that to affect our game?”
Abbeville defeated Woodland 56-0 in 2020. The Wolverines lost their quarterback, top running back and their top four wide receivers to graduation.
“They brought in a quarterback from McCormick,” Nickles said of Woodland junior Suderian Harrison. “He’s one of the top quarterbacks in the state. I’ve always been impressed with the Harrison kid. He took it to us last year in the WCTEL scrimmage. He probably put up more numbers against our defense in a half last year than a lot of teams did in a whole game. To me, he’s a game-changer.”
Nickles said Woodland is fast, athletic and well-coached. They are also big up front on the offensive and defensive lines. Brothers Kam Pringle (6-foot-7, 285 pounds) and Cortez Pringle (6-1, 240) are two of the standouts on the line. Kam has several Division 1 scholarship offers, and Cortez was an all-state performer in 2020.
“I think you have to rely on your fundamentals and keep mixing it up on them,” Nickles said. “They come off the football and get after you. They are different from us. We’re what you call a flatback team. They are more of a spread. They’ll grab and turn and hold you. They do a good job with that technique.”
Woodland went 5-2 last season, winning the Region 6-2A title. The Wolverines lost to Barnwell in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs. Abbeville won the 2A state championship, its fifth in the past six seasons.
The Pringle brothers are helped on the front line by senior linemen Giavanni Cohen (6-1, 283) and Jaden Boyd. Offensively, running backs Jaidyn Gardner and Tyler Green are the top ball carriers for Woodland, and tight end Clarence Simmons is one of Harrison’s top receiving targets.
Senior linebacker Robert Johnson (5-11, 220) has several college offers, and senior cornerback Kendrick Clark Jr. was an all-state selection in 2020.
Abbeville’s Antonio Harrison has emerged as a top threat for the Panthers. He’s carried the ball 15 times for 212 yards, leads the team in all-purpose yards, and has a receiving touchdown and a kick return for a touchdown.
“Not only for our offense, but for our defense, as well,” Nickles said of Harrison’s effectiveness. “He did a good job last year mixing between receiver and running back. I think the key I’ve seen Antonio do is his blocking. He has been a great teammate and takes a lot of pride in his blocking.”
Other key backs in Abbeville’s A-Bone offensive formation include J’Marion Burton (five TDs), Shunkevis Brown (three TDs) and Jamal Marshall (16 carries for 116 yards). Quarterback Zay Rayford has 210 yards rushing on 29 carries and three rushing touchdowns. He’s also passed for a pair of scores.
Abbeville defensive back CJ Vance has two interceptions. Other key Panther defenders include defensive back Jeremiah Lomax and linebacker Ty Cade (one INT and one fumble recovery for a TD).
The Panthers have taken care of the ball so far, with just two turnovers compared to the opposition’s seven (three interceptions and four lost fumbles).